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Harding: '100 percent' he'll return from MS setback

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Symptoms related to multiple sclerosis will prevent Josh Harding from playing against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, but the Minnesota Wild goaltender insists the disease will not prevent him from continuing to stop pucks in the NHL.

Harding said he is "100 percent" confident he could keep playing through the unpredictable, incurable disease that can affect vision, hearing, memory, balance and mobility. He was diagnosed with the illness in October.

"Coming into this I knew it wasn't going to be the most perfect road," he said after skating Tuesday. "There are going to be some bumps in the road and some challenges and I know things are going to get better and that's a positive point."

Harding said he isn't sure when that will be, however. Asked about his future, he admitted that for now he is "just taking every day and seeing how I feel."

Harding said his current setback was a result of new medication he started taking a few weeks ago, but the symptoms were not the reason he was pulled from his start Jan. 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks after giving up two goals on four shots.

"It's not like I woke up this morning and decided to tell them [team management] -- it's been like this for a bit," Harding said. "Just lately been feeling a bit off and we kind of knew this was a possibility. … I'm not going to get into too many details about it right now. I'm a little off and the decision was made to take this one [game] off and take care of it right now. … We've been told by doctors everything is going to be fine, but this was a possibility and unfortunately this has happened."

Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said this happening was "not something we were unprepared for."

The Wild had American Hockey League goaltender Darcy Kuemper in Vancouver while they were playing the Calgary Flames on Monday. The team made Kuemper's call-up official Tuesday, sending defenseman Marco Scandella to the AHL to make room on the roster.

The 22-year-old goalie is expected make his NHL debut against the Canucks after veteran Niklas Backstrom made 23 saves in a 2-1 shootout win in Calgary on Monday. Kuemper is 10-6-0 and in the top three in the AHL with a 1.79 goals-against average, a .938 save percentage and four shutouts in 16 games with the Houston Aeros this season.

How long Kuemper stays in the NHL depends on Harding, who was praised by Fletcher for how he has handled the situation.

"It's against a hockey player's nature to come in and say he doesn't feel he can do it," Fletcher said. "He feels down a little about it and we're really supporting him and I give him a lot of credit for coming forward and giving us this information. It's in his best interest and our team's best interest."

Harding had a 24-save shutout in his first game of the season, Jan. 20 against the Dallas Stars, but gave up five goals on 27 shots five days later against the Detroit Red Wings and after getting pulled from the game against the Blackhawks, his only appearance since was in relief of Backstrom against the Canucks last week, when he stopped all six shots in the third period. He has an .885 save percentage for the season.

"We've asked Josh to be honest with us and let us know when he doesn't feel he is 100 percent and he just feels a little bit off," Fletcher said. "There is a lot of trial and error. Every situation is different and doctors advised us of this a few weeks ago that eventually we will get to the right spot where the medication works and his body adapts to it. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, unfortunately. Every case is different. We are going to get there. We're very optimistic about that. But right now he feels a little off."

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